High School Challenge

Challenge 2016

Dates/Location: April 28 - 29 at Western Oregon University, Monmouth

This Year's Challenge: Student teams will be challenged to develop, test and market a thin, flexible bioplastic that is biodegradable and can be used with time-released medicines. 

Be a Volunteer: SMILE is looking for college students to mentor high school students participating in this STEM-based challenge. Team mentors are needed to help encourage small groups of high school students at the event.  The time commitment is a one-hour training the week before the event and commitment to at least one the two Challenge days. TRANSPORTATION (and dinner the first night) will be provided to volunteers from OSU to the WOU campus.

Contact: smileprogram@oregonstate.edu to sign up.

Bioenergy High School Challenge

One of the educational components of the Bioenergy Education Project is a two-day challenge event with high school students from rural, low-income or minority backgrounds. The Challenge gives these high school students an opportunity to consider a future in a STEM career, plus a chance to experience life on a college campus firsthand.

Over 100 high school students took part in the 2015 Oregon State University (OSU) Bioenergy Challenge which is organized by the Science & Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) Program. The students' assignment was to learn about different types of bioenergy based on four hypothetical communities similar to those found in Oregon.

In mock scenarios, student teams were hired by an investment firm. This fictional company had selected communities to support bioenergy production. The students used survey data and information about the communities to determine which type of bioenergy would result in a mutually beneficial investment for the firm and the community. The student teams gave five-minute persuasive presentations on the types of bioenergy they felt would be best community investment and explained what investors would need to do to gain community support. The students also designed educational pamphlets and posters that included survey data and regionally specific biofuel information. The challenge engaged students to think critically about the data they were given and make scientifically-based decisions. Students also learned about potential impacts of bioenergy including sustainability, job creation, and national energy independence.

Another unique feature of the Challenge event is that it included 13 university student mentors who worked with high school students throughout the two-day event. OSU senior and student mentor Jorge Miranda could identify with the high school students. He had been involved in the SMILE program since middle school and felt strongly that it opened up educational opportunities for him. ”As a first generation student, I had little idea of how to apply to college and how to go about funding my education, so I wanted to encourage others to not settle for less than a higher education simply because they do not know the means of getting there,” said Miranda.  “It is very likely that in [the students’] lifetime there may be a shortage of non-renewable energy sources. Being able to apply what they learned to an existing problem illustrates the impact a college education can have on the world and in their lives if they choose to pursue a bioenergy-related career.”

Area instructors and SMILE club advisors joined their students in the challenge. Said advisor Tonya Jones of Forest Grove, "Biofuels and alternative energy will be nothing but bigger in the future. Students need to understand what it is and how they will use it. The Challenge program is creating new innovators and informed citizens, and it is showing students career paths available."

(Material Source: Betsy Fradd, Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest)